Early next morning they stood in the private grounds of a small mansion house, some five or six miles outside Reigate. They had been the guests overnight of Dr. Seacombe, a colleague of Professor Grant.
Moored in front of a line of poplars was the Ether Flyer: a Gondola some fifty or sixty feet in length, suspended below a Hydrogen Gasbag of perhaps twice that length. A small set of steps led up into the car.
The Professor had explained to those of them unfamiliar with Flyers, that an ether Flyer had two different operating systems: a lift system comprising either liftwood slats or a gasbag for changing altitude, coupled with a steam driven airscrew which propelled the vehicle through the atmosphere.
Once the Ether Flyer reached very high altitude however these systems would become redundant, and it was the Solar Boiler Driven Ether Screw which would propel the vehicle through the Ether.
The gondola contained several stateroom- all but one of double occupancy, a greenhouse, an engine room and a bridge area. The bridge area also contained a dining table and small galley. The whole was tastefully furnished with wood panelling and fabric wallpaper, in the fashion of something to a study. In deference to the lady present, the Professor gallantly gave up his single room for her convenience, while he moved temporarily into one of the double bunk rooms.
The Professor gave a quick tour of the small ship, and Marco nodded with familiarity as he pointed out the engine and trim controls.
“Er… have any of you any prior experience with Ariel Vehicles?” asked the Professor expectantly.
“Iva Professur.” nodded Marko. “I have served on many vessels, nautical and flyers. I have not been in an Ether Vehicle however.”
“Ah well, good, good. Certainly in atmosphere the principles are the same. In fact any of you with experience on boats may find a few familiar tasks to do. I’m sure Mr. Cortis would be happy to fill any of you in, as I would myself.” Lady Glossop raised an eyebrow archly, and then held one dainty hand up.
“Er yes my, dear, what is it?” smiled the Professor benevolently.
“Well”, said Lady Glossop, “I did have a friend-a Russian Count in fact, who owned his own Flying Launch once. I was his guest for some time, and he taught me to fly it.”
“Well yes my dear” beamed Professor Grant, “I’m sure he did let you try the controls a little. But you must know this this machine is a big, complicated old thing. I’m sure you don’t want to trouble your pretty little head with it.” Lady Glossop pouted slightly and looked a little crestfallen, dabbing a handkerchief to the corner of her eye. Unseen by any of the others, Marko smirked slightly.
“There, there now my dear” stammered Professor Grant. “I’ll tell you what. I will fly the machine up and out of the atmosphere with Marko, and once we’re safely in orbit I’ll let you handle the controls for a little while. I’ll let you try those big red knobs over there and we’ll see if you can handle them.”